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Deflecting Someone Else’s Anger

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Anger is one of the most common emotions human beings face, especially in the work world. But it is also one of the most misunderstood. How do you deal with anger that another person is holding in? If you feel that someone is angry with you, but he or she seems unwilling to be direct, there are three ways to respond.

If the reasons for the outburst are unclear to you, first examine what he is not saying. Many people lash out and it is hard to understand what the problem is. Try to determine the possible causes for his anger. If you can find out the cause and simply change something you are doing, you may be able to resolve the problem without confrontation. This is risky, however, because your solution may not be accurate – and it depends on a bit of mind reading.

Secondly, you can choose to ignore the negative messages being sent by a co-worker. If he really has a problem, he can just come out and tell you. This is also risky because it does nothing to resolve the issue, which may only grow worse.

The most appropriate response, although unpleasant, is confrontation. It is far more productive than letting a misunderstanding continue unchecked. Tension manages to spill over to others until there are more uncomfortable co-workers than just the two of you. Perhaps the other person just doesn’t have the skill to approach another when the issue is anger – even when the anger is valid. Help him or her! Show them the way. Let them know that it is safe to express anger by taking the initiative and telling him you feel something is wrong. Show that you are willing to work things out if you have done something to offend him.

There are practical ways to deal with the anger of a co-worker:

1. Honest communication is the key. Confront the angry person in a way that is not defensive or negative. Call a halt to
the anger promptly and effectively and show a desire to make time to discuss the situation. Keep the door of
communication open.

2. Focus constructively on the issues that should be addressed. While angry employees may appear to want a specific
issue addressed, they are looking for something else that they see as equally or more important. They want to be
heard. Always allow the person to talk. Don’t interrupt. If you don’t provide a means for them to be heard, they will
find other more subversive ways to be heard.

3. Don’t feed on the anger of others. Constant negative discussions accomplish nothing except to fuel the flames of
discontent and hopelessness about the situation. Direct the conversations to possible resolutions. Creating an
environment of positive influence with co-workers to bring about change is far more effective than running together
in a vicious circle of fault-finding and complaining.

4. Watch what you say. If the co-worker’s perceptions do not match your perceptions express your perceptions in a
way that tries to put you and the angry person on the same side. Carefully choosing your words, even in the face of
circumstances that cause justifiable anger, leaves your dignity and integrity intact.

Most of the time, people appreciate a sincere effort to work out issues that can be resolved together. If that doesn’t work and your co-worker is still angry, at least you’ve done your part. You can’t force the other person to come forward. If it appears that the person is still upset or angry, let it pass for the moment. Allow the person to think about the situation away from you, THEN follow-up in a day or two. Someone who is angry may “lose face” initially by letting the anger go immediately. Or, they might just need time to think about your discussion. Anger is a word with negative connotations but can be handled in a way that produces good results on your job. Out of confrontation can come tremendous growth.


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